Category Archives: Marketing

The care and feeding of a potential brand evangelist

I miss Nancy.

Not that I ever met her face-to-face, but we spoke on the phone many times when I was editor of a weekly newspaper.

Nancy (not her real name) was, depending on your perspective, a pain-in-the-neck old lady or the conscience of our brand. I prefer to think of her as the latter, although, admittedly, getting a call from her on deadline could sometimes change my opinion, briefly.

In a nutshell, Nancy would call me up when something was wrong in the newspaper. Usually, a church listing concerning her congregation, but sometimes complaints about why we put the story about the teenage drinking party on the front page and the story about a local teen volunteering for City Year on the back.

A younger, more tightly wound colleague couldn’t stand hearing from her, but to me, she was something the newspaper had far too few of – a reader who cared deeply about her community and her local paper.

Our first chat concerned a messed up church listing. In it, she explained that she first went to the church secretary and the pastor, who told her that they didn’t bother calling the paper because they didn’t think we cared about things like church listings. Nancy told them she’d take care of it, and she called me straight away. When she explained the chain of events to me, I thanked her for caring enough to let me know. I explained to her that the newspaper wanted to know when it was doing something wrong, and too many people would rather badmouth us over an error than actually contact us to get it fixed. I invited her to call me anytime she saw something wrong or had a question.

She took me up on the offer.

I didn’t really think about it in marketing terms at the time, but in hindsight Nancy was a critic who cared enough about the product to become a brand evangelist.

Just from talking to her, I knew she wasn’t one to mince words and that she gladly shared her opinion with anyone who would listen, so I knew that if we fixed any mistakes she pointed out or gave her a reasonable explanation of how and why we played certain stories, she’d tell her neighbors that the paper really cared about getting things right and making reasoned decisions.

I didn’t do this to turn her into a brand evangelist. I did it because it was the right thing to do, and any editor or reporter who blows off people like Nancy is shooting themself in the foot.

Even though about 80 percent of what Nancy called me about concerned things we were doing wrong – or what she thought we were doing wrong – I found myself enjoying our chats. She was always civil and pleasant – it was like chatting with my grandmother. On many occasions, we agreed to disagree, but we always ended out conversation on a friendly note.

So what’s the point of this trip down memory lane? It should be obvious. Every brand has its Nancys, and every organization needs to realize that they aren’t necessarily the enemy.


15 ideas in 15 minutes: A Slice of NH

A pair of good friends recently started a really cool blog – A Slice of New Hampshire.

Their self-stated goal – “Touring the Granite State to create the ultimate guide for the ultimate food” – is to eat their way through the state’s pizza joints, one pie at a time.

Their site is a work in progress. Over a recent lunch (surprisingly, not pizza), I offered to share a few suggestions with them and they agreed to let me blog about it.

The shtick of this post is that I only gave myself 15 minutes to tool around the site and I had to come up with at least 15 viable, not-too-difficult ideas concerning design, content, or marketing.

Here goes:

1. Give the most recent review a more “centerpiece-style” look to give the home page more impact.

2. Whether you go to a centerpiece module or not, there are too many reviews on the home page. Try limiting the home page to four or five posts, tops.

3. Even if you’re unable to consistently go statewide, try to get a bigger geographic sampling of reviews. Maybe plan weekend getaways to the North Country, Upper Valley, Keene, etc. and hit a couple places that way. Maybe as a gimmick, go to the northernmost and southernmost pizza places in the state.

4. Once you get more geographically spread out, a Google map of the state with push-pins marking places you reviewed would be cool. In the short term, add a Google map to each review page so people can get directions easily if they want to act on your recommendations.

5. Create a gallery for all the pizza photos you have. Ask readers to share their pizza photos, too. Maybe take some funny shots with slices arranged like Pac-Man or a Jack-O-Lantern and/or ask readers to submit their own creative “pizza art.”

6. A weekly poll question would be fun for the home page – pepperoni or sausage, all veggies vs. all meat, etc.

7. Add a Twitter feed to the open spot on the right rail of the home page that tracks any references to @pizzanh.

8. A couple design tweaks: On the little wrap-around banner above each review, take the hyperlink to the home page off your names, it makes it really hard to read with the red background and since you are the only two reviewers you really don’t need a link there. Also, the plus-sign graphics next to the county names makes me think they would open a collapsible list, which they don’t. Use a different kind of bullet.

9. At the end of the reviews, put a “rate this review” widget so people who don’t want to leave a comment can still participate in the conversation.

10. Think about adding videos – maybe interview a pizza chef about secrets a home cook can use, or do a tongue-in-cheek video showing the best way to eat cold pizza. Nothing fancy, just fun.

11. In terms of monetizing the blog, try selling ads. You can also offer to post full menus of places you reviewed for an annual fee.

12. Notify a pizza place after you review them positively and invite them to post the review on their bulletin board – it’s a free ad for your site.

13. When you review a place or two in a new geographic area, send a news release to the local paper. If they run anything, it’s free PR for the site.

14. Offer your reviews to print publications, such as Hippo Press or the Union Leader’s NH Weekend to build influence and reach for your blog. You could also try to land a weekly gig on a morning radio program.

15. Find and link to all other NH-related food sites and see if you can get links back to your site. Also, if there are any sites that list NH blogs, add your blog to the list.

Take an inbound marketing approach to crisis management

You’ll never face a crisis as big as the one BP is mired in, but no matter how well you do what you do, chances are your business will someday be involved in an unfortunate situation.

And when that crisis hits, here’s the absolute best PR and marketing advice you can get: Come clean.

Why? Because the genie is already out of the bottle. Problems ignored or downplayed have a way of getting worse – and of bleeding away the trust and goodwill you’ve been working years to build.

Once you’re in crisis mode, nothing can do you more harm than trying to “manage” the problem. It’s better to explain how the problem occurred, explain your response to the problem, and, most importantly, fix the problem.

If you look at crisis management from an inbound marketing perspective, this is a no-brainer. But it sure as hell wasn’t obvious to BP (and many other corporations, politicians and entertainers in recent years). Through inbound marketing, you are providing your audience with the information they need to succeed. You are finding out what they care about and creating content that helps them. You are not interrupting them with a sales pitch and the hype that accompanies traditional marketing efforts.

So why don’t more organizations go this route? Because in a crisis, you revert to old habits, which typically involve circling the wagons, lying on the ground and hoping people don’t notice that anything is wrong. And in a Web 2.0 world, that’s a recipe for failure because plenty of people are going to notice, and social media gives them the tools to tell an exponential amount of others.

Of course none of this really matters in BP’s case. The gulf spill is too big to not poison their brand and no amount of transparency could change that. But for your business, if you have a software bug, or a security breach, or some other embarrassing situation, a rapid, transparent response is your best strategy.

Think about it – your customers thought enough of you and your product or service to buy it. They will certainly be more understanding and forgiving if you alert them to an issue and take immediate steps to make it right than if they find out about the problem from a third party.

And from a media relations perspective, nothing stops the news cycle better than complete disclosure (How many second-day stories have you seen about Company X or politician Z not fully coming clean? Too many for it to happen to you.)

So there you have it, the simple secret to dealing with a crisis: Come clean quickly. Come clean constructively. And come clean completely.

Oh, and one last thing, don’t ever refer to your audience as “small people.”

The social media magnifying glass

I’d like to thank Pete’s Tire Barn for today’s lesson on how, thanks to social media, treating a customer well can be worth its weight in marketing gold.

A few weeks back, when I was getting my riding lawnmower ready for spring, I found that the front tire had gone flat over the winter. It was a tubeless tire and, despite my best efforts, I couldn’t create enough air pressure for the tire to seal itself to the rim.

I brought the tire to Pete’s – having no prior experience with the business – because it was the closest tire shop to my house. I expected to end up paying a few bucks for getting the tire inflated.

The guy at the front desk took the tire out back, filled it with air, and handed it back to me in about 42 seconds. When I asked him how much, he said it was on the house.

Granted, it took him all of 42 seconds, but I’ve dealt with places in the past that would still charge you for something minor. If he asked me for two or three bucks, I’d have gladly paid and gone on my way; after all, he provided a service that I couldn’t replicate on my own. (Heck, I had to pay 75 cents for air at a mini-mart only to find out that their compressor couldn’t provide any more pressure than my hand pump!). Now, if he asked me for $10, I would have felt taken advantage of and made a mental note not to go back there for anything.

Instead, for the “price” of some free air and 42 seconds labor, Pete’s Tire Barn got a shout-out from me on Facebook (and in this blog post and in the link I’ll put on Twitter to this blog post). On top of that, Pete’s is on my radar the next time I need tires.

In the past, an experience like this may have stayed with the individual customer, but now, thanks to the magnifying glass of social media, these touchpoints can have far wider reach.

In fact, as I was thinking about whether this experience was enough to hang a blog post on, two more examples appeared a few hours apart on my Facebook news feed. One friend was thanking an auto glass company that replaced his six-month-old windshield for free after it was cracked by a rock and another friend was calling out a gym for making her jump through ridiculous hoops to cancel her membership.

Both of these messages had a greater impact – for better and for worse – on my future buying decisions than any commercial, print ad, website, billboard or direct mail piece I’ll ever see from either of these businesses. My experience at Pete’s may have a similar impact on some of my friends.

So, what’s the lesson here? It’s obvious: Businesses that understand this will own the future.

Dear Facebook: Knock it off

In the pre-YouTube era that future generations will regard (incorrectly) with pity, I got hooked on watching Laurel and Hardy movies on my local UHF station.

In one my favorites, “Utopia” (also released as “Atoll K”), Stan and Ollie and a few others end up shipwrecked on an atoll that magically pokes up out of the ocean. The group forms a new country – Robinson Crusoeland – with no laws, no taxes and no government. When word of the new nation gets out, crooks, bums and other lowlifes descend on the place, take over and sentence our heroes to the gallows. (p.s. They survive, even though it ended up being their last film.)

For some reason, the plot reminds me of Facebook.

No, thousands of people haven’t taken over the company to push their own selfish ends. They don’t have to. The company seems to be doing it for them – at the expense of the “utopia” where one could keep up with friends, both current and long-lost, and not be bothered.

These days, it seems every other week brings us a minor redesign or a change in the privacy settings, which were hard enough to figure out in the first place. These minor tweaks, which seem cryptic or annoying to most of us – such as changing “Become a fan” to “Like”  and the whole Facebook Connect idea – are geared to making it easier for businesses to use the site as a marketing tool. (Before the “Fan/Like” tweak, Facebook alerted advertisers that “Like” links offer “a simple, consistent way for people to connect with the things they are interested in … in fact, people click ‘Like’ almost two times more than they click ‘Become a Fan’ everyday,” according to an e-mail obtained by MediaMemo.)

Now, I’m a huge believer in social media marketing, with its emphasis on creating value, providing solutions and building community. In fact, this is about the only sort of marketing that actually appeals to me as a consumer.

 Yet … Something about Facebook’s recent steps rubs me the wrong way. I want a business to earn its way into my consciousness, not sneak in – and I think many social media marketers might agree .

Trust and respect are a big deal, and Facebook isn’t doing anyone any favors by trying to game the system.

It’s about them (i.e. content strategy)

My local paper ran a story last week asking members of the state’s congressional delegation – and the people who hope to run against them in November – where they stood on the recently passed health care bill.

Guess what?

All the Democrats were for it and all the Republicans were against it.

Not only that, they all sounded the same common talking points echoing across the media landscape. And they weren’t even that colorful about it.

Now, I’m not writing to mock my local paper or the reporter who wrote the article, what I’m trying to mock is the journalism groupthink that considers this is news, or, to put a finer point on it, useful news.

If I know what everyone is going to say in an article before I read it, why should I read it? There’s so little time to spend on anything, I want to spend time on things that matter to me.

How about using the space taken up by that article to run a Q&A or analysis from a wire service that might actually help readers understand the bigger picture or learn something they didn’t know? How about giving the reporter a few more days to dig into how the bill would actually impact the state or region?

Yes, I’m talking about a specific industry here – journalism, which faces daily deadlines that many other organizations don’t – but this issue can affect any business trying to create content.

Putting something up just to “fill a hole” doesn’t serve you or your audience. The value of your content is proportional to how useful it is to your customers: Tell them something they don’t know, and why it matters to them.

What you want, baby, I got it

A new post by Gina Chen on the Neiman Journalism Lab points out something obvious that not everyone gets: convenience plus content equals customer loyalty.

The post describes how useful it was to learn that her kids had a snow day via a free text alert service provided by a local TV station and how the station, while not directly making any money off her, earned a lot of goodwill by giving her the information “the way I wanted it and when I wanted it.”

While point of the post is that one way for news organizations to remain relevant and useful is by focusing on user’s needs, the concept can – and should – apply to any organization seeking to strengthen its brand.

Again, neither she nor I are saying this is a radical concept, but all you have to do is look around to know that not everyone gets it.